Much of “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” is autobiographical; the story recalls an event from Katherine Anne Porter’s life. During World War I, Porter worked as a reporter in Denver. There she met and fell in love with a lieutenant. She then contracted influenza during the epidemic and nearly died. “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” is her attempt to record that experience.
“Pale Horse, Pale Rider” begins with a dream sequence about the story’s central concern: death. Miranda, Porter’s autobiographical heroine, dreams of being pursued by death. Miranda, however, awakes to a world that is as terrifying as her nightmare. World War I is raging, and an influenza epidemic is sweeping the country. Added to this trauma is the stress of her job. As a drama critic for the local newspaper, Miranda must attend plays and vaudeville shows; she must also face performers she has panned. The only stable component of Miranda’s life is Adam Barclay, the young officer with whom she has fallen in love.
Miranda’s relationship with Adam, however, is intense rather than calming. Miranda and Adam know that Adam, who is waiting for his orders to go to war, may not return. Although both know this, neither will acknowledge the possibility to the other. By not talking about the possibility of Adam being killed in the war, both seek to deny the possibility. Their mutual denial makes their encounters frantic and desperate.
The instability of Miranda’s...
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